The recent publication by the Ministry of Economy, Planning and Development (MEPyD) that 62.3% of the Dominican 10-year-old population could not understand the reading of a simple text caused great concern.
To tell the truth, it was disconcerting. It seems impossible to conceive the idea that a new generation in the Dominican Republic lacks the minimum skills or abilities necessary to decode a text and discern its meaning.
This was not, however, just a finding of the government agency in charge of economic analysis and national development, but the results of a regional comparative study conducted by UNESCO in 2019.
Added to this, of course, are the fateful results obtained in the last participation of our country in the Pisa exams, in 2018, where we came in last place in the overall average in reading, below the average of OECD and Latin American countries.
It is, then, poignant to see how our students, especially the youngest, who represent the hopeful force of the future, lag behind compared to their peers in the rest of the world.
This becomes even more important if we take into consideration that this is taking place in what has been called the information and knowledge society, where the real added value is no longer in manufacturing or production, but in the world of knowledge and ideas.
But why do our children and young people find themselves in this disadvantageous condition? What are the conditions that prevent them from better reading comprehension, and with it, better academic performance?
One of the factors that we can identify is that the Dominican school has not been able to implement a true reading plan. This is achieved mainly through the selection of appropriate texts for each age group, which should be available, especially for those students whose parents do not have the economic capacity to acquire them.
Role of libraries
This is precisely where it can be best appreciated how important libraries are in our country’s educational system. According to the Pact for Education, signed in 2014 by the main actors of national life, the commitment to have school libraries was established.
Naturally, the establishment of libraries will require, in turn, the need for librarians, who are the specialists in charge of serving as guides to identify the appropriate texts to be read by students, depending on their age and school level.
Reading, as is known, consists of a process of decoding signs or letters, which in turn form words, phrases and ideas. If children do not have the knowledge about the meaning of words, because they have an insufficient vocabulary, it is evident that they will not be able to fully understand the meaning or context of what they are reading.
Currently, there is a UNESCO institution, the Regional Council for Book Development in Latin America and the Caribbean (CERLALC), of which the Dominican Republic is a member, that can coordinate with our librarians the selection of appropriate texts according to the intellectual evolution of our young people.
In their formative stage as young readers, our students need to be properly oriented, in the case of fiction readings, such as stories and novels, to be able to decipher the plot, identify the characters, understand the context; and, as a consequence, develop creative capacity and imagination.
Likewise, develop skills to interpret informative texts. Thus, it builds logical capacity, analytical sense and critical thinking. As a whole, greater conditions to argue, improving their levels of communication, both oral and written.
In addition to school libraries, in order to have a true book and reading promotion policy, it is essential to establish library networks at the national level. We would have a well-equipped National Library, university libraries, municipal libraries and mobile libraries.
Between limitations and possibilities
If more than 60% of our 10-year-old schoolchildren cannot understand a simple reading, it is not their fault. Rather, it is due to an educational system trapped in the nets of the past. A system in which schools lack libraries, reading is not encouraged and there is no selection of books according to age or school level.